Just over two hours west of New Orleans in the coastal marsh of Iberia Parish lies Avery Island. It is not an island in the true sense, but rather a geological formation known as a “salt dome,” and it is here that Ned McIlhenny — of McIlhenny Co. — first began producing Tabasco sauce in 1868.
Today, the still-functional Tabasco factory serves as an integral part of the Tabasco Tour that, paired with the lush Jungle Gardens on the island, makes Avery Island a fun and interesting day trip from the Big Easy.
The quickest way to Avery Island from New Orleans is to take I-10W to I-310S (just past the airport) to US-90W, but there’s a slightly longer route that takes you through Baton Rouge and Lafayette if you wanted to have some add-ons for your trip.
At the Visitor’s Center, you can get a combined Tabasco Tour + Jungle Gardens ticket for $12.50. Individually, the Tabasco Tour is $5.50 and Jungle Gardens entry is $8 for adults. Jungle Gardens entry is $5 and the combined pass is $9.50 for children. There are also cooking classes and culinary tours starting at $50. See all ticket info.
With your ticket you’ll be given three miniature souvenir bottles of different varieties of Tabasco sauce, and from there you can begin the eight-stop self-guided tour. (Or perhaps you’ll be inclined to pop into the Country Store first, where you can taste test a multitude of Tabasco flavors and stock up on Tabasco swag like clothing, knickknacks and even spicy chocolate!)
The tour begins in the Tabasco Museum, where visitors receive a history lesson on both the island itself and Tabasco as a product by way of photos, video and engaging displays of old-timey items. From there, guests can visit a greenhouse where peppers are grown, the cooperage where Tabasco is aged in salt-sealed barrels, and the blending and bottling facility (with additional exhibits highlighting the Avery Island Experience and the Salt Mine Experience, as the salt dome did indeed function as a mine for some time).
Along the way, you’ll pick up interesting tidbits such as the fact that McIlhenny Co. is one of only 850 companies around the world to receive a “royal warrant” from Queen Elizabeth II, who appears to have developed a taste for the iconic condiment; or that despite a reputation for environmentalism, McIlhenny is credited with causing Louisiana’s nutria rat problem, having released many of the invasive species into the wild. When you’ve brushed up sufficiently on your Tabasco knowledge, feel free to stop by the on-site Restaurant 1868 that, in addition to fine Creole cuisine, boasts a well-stocked Tabasco Bloody Mary bar.
Just outside the Tabasco plant lies 170 acres of subtropical gardens –McIlhenny ’s former estate that he began taming and cultivating into its current state in the 1920s. The three-mile loop through Jungle Gardens can be traversed on foot or by car, and brings you by such sites as the Wisteria and Holly Arches, the Venetian and Sunken Gardens, and a grove of timber bamboo.
The most notable attractions on the grounds are a centuries-old statue of Buddha seated in a peaceful Japanese-style garden, and the “Bird City” that predates the Jungle Gardens project –McIlhenny began a bird colony in the 1890s to protect local white egrets, as the feathers of which were fashionable in ladies’ headwear at the time. In addition to egrets, you may come across other songbirds and wading birds, and you may even see a gator or two. Magnificent live oaks — including the 300-plus-year-old Cleveland Oak, named for the former president, who visited in 1891– abound throughout the gardens, and the whole park is a photographer’s dream.
Get more information on Jungle Gardens.